Because how you think about yourself and everything around you is more important to your happiness than your actual objective circumstances, increasing your attention to all the good things in your life can significantly enhance your happiness. Multiple studies have shown the positive power of gratitude (e.g., Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Lyubomirsky, Sheldon et al., 2005; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006). People who are consistently grateful are happier; more energetic; and less depressed, anxious, and envious (Lyubomirsky, 2008).
Three Good Things
One well-tested activity is to take time once a week to write down three or more things for which you’re grateful. Studies have shown that people who do this activity for six weeks markedly increase their happiness (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon et al., 2005). It’s also important to vary your gratitude activities so that you don’t get bored. The good effects can wear off if you do the same activity all the time. Below is a list of different gratitude activities for you to try. Pick one day each week to do your gratitude activity (e.g., Thankful Thursdays), and then pick an activity. Try one for three or more weeks and then switch to another.
Once a week, think about everything – large and small – for which you are thankful (e.g., was well prepared for a meeting, family member made a delicious dinner, tulips are blooming). Think about things you’re good at, advantages you’ve had, people who care about you and have touched your life. Then pick three to five things and write a brief note about them. Try out a gratitude journal website or smartphone app (e.g., Gratitude Journal by Happy Tapper), which will send you regular reminders.
Engage in something artistic to express your gratitude to another. Draw or paint a picture, make a collage, sculpt with clay, or write a poem, a song, or a story. Studies indicate that art creation boosts mood (Dalebroux, Goldstein, & Winner, 2008). Evidence suggests that art-making that depicted something happy was more effective at improving short-term mood than using art to vent negative emotions (Dalebroux et al., 2008).
Evidence also indicates that a variety of different art-making activities (e.g., drawing, painting, collage-making, clay work, etc.) may reduce anxiety (Sandmire, Gorham, Rankin & Grimm, 2012). So engaging in an appreciative art activity may give you benefits both from artistic engagement and from your grateful thinking.
Gratitude Photo Collage
Taking and sharing “selfies” is popular, but try this, too. For a week, keep a lookout for everyday things for which you’re grateful (e.g., your dog, a warm garage in winter, dinner with friends, your family) and take photos of them. At the end of the week, post them all on your favorite social networking website with fun notes. Research shows that sharing good things with others (the more the better) actually increases your enjoyment of them (Gable, Reis, et al, 2004; Gable & Gosnell, 2011). So share your photos with friends and explain why they represent something for which you’re grateful.
Think about the people for whom you feel grateful – a family member, old friends, a colleague, a good boss. Write a letter expressing your gratitude and, if you can, visit that person and read it aloud or call them on the phone. Describe in detail what they did for you and how they affected your life. You might even write a letter to people who are helpful everyday but whom you don’t know – e.g., postal carriers, garbage removers, bus drivers, politicians, authors. You might also choose to write a letter and not deliver it.
One study showed that participants who spent 15 minutes writing gratitude letters once a week over an eight-week period became happier during and after the study (Lyubomirsky, 2008).
Designate a jar or other container as the Gratitude Jar and invite others to drop notes in whenever someone does something helpful. Then read the notes aloud once a week. Use this activity with your coworkers, family, friends – any group that spends significant time together.
This article was published in the ABA Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers, created by Anne M. Brafford. Reprinted with permission.
Dalebroux, A., Goldstein, T. R., & Winner, E. (2008). “Short-term mood repair through art-making: Positive emotion is more effective than venting,” Motivation and Emotion, 32, 288-295.
Emmons, R.A. & McCullough, M. E. (2003). “Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.
Gable, S. L., Reis, H. T., Impett, E., & Asher, E. R. (2004). “What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 228-245.
Gable, S. L. & Gosnell, C. L. (2011). “The positive side of close relationships.” In K. M. Sheldon, T. B. Kashdan, & M. F. Steger (Eds.), “Designing positive psychology: Taking stock and moving forward,” (pp. 265-279). New York: Oxford University Press.
Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K., & Schkade, D. (2005). “Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change,” Review of General Psychology, 9, 111-131.
Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). “How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves,” The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 73-82.